Video Transcript

There is no doubt that Bob Snodgrass is the godfather of artistic hard glass in our country.  His dedication to quality art has earned him tremendous respect in the national and local art communities across North America.  Many glassblowers can trace their roots back to Bob Snodgrass.  Bob has worked with glass since 1971 in Ohio.  In fact, he's originally from Ohio.  It wasn't until 1981 that glass blowing became Bob's full time occupation.  Bob Snodgrass and his family traveled throughout the country in the United States until they came to Oregon in 1990.  In North America, Eugene, Oregon, is the mecca for artistic boro glass this is due to the presence of Bob Snodgrass and his students learning and apprenticing Bob.  When he first started working with glass he was not pleased with the results so he experimented.

Bob discovered that silver and gold specially sprayed into the hard glass would change colors when the background was blackened.  This technique and many others were pioneered by Bob.  In addition, many of the modern glass blowing tools owe their creation to Bob Snodgrass.  Bob Snodgrass took on many apprentices and now has a huge extended family of glass blowers.  Although he can make anything he wants into glass, marbles are his specialty.  The marbles are so intricate they appear to be worlds within themselves.  When asked why art is so important in society his response turned to a glass marble.  Art is about magic.  A little thing like a marble can change someone's attitude.  So now, we would like to welcome the godfather of glass, the man, the myth, the legend and our friend, Bob Snodgrass.

Bob Snodgrass:
Wait, oh let me borrow that for a second.

Oh okay.

Bob Snodgrass:
Auto ignition.  Wow, it's not quite there.  Sometimes when they're hot enough you don't have to light them with a torch so I'm going to use this little electric lighter, I don't like to use oh, before everything starts.

Speaker 3:
Some of my junk out of your way.

Bob Snodgrass:
I'm going my son-in-law found a job.  Jonathan, would you come and file some silver for me? At home all my tools, instead of getting laid on a table have magnet and they stick to it, like that.  I just didn't bring enough super magnets along to stick my tools up but I've got them up here and got them over there and I can just reach and pull and grab and wherever there's one of my tools, it's there.  So anyhow, Jonathan is going to make some silver filings for me and I'm going to use them in part of my coloring.  Now, unlike the blow hose I put my tubes up and join them together and make a blow pipe on them, especially anything over 22 millimeter which is the size of this piece.  This is also standard wall.  Most of my work involves building up of layer after layer after layer and if I was to do that with heavy wall I'd have a whole different effect, where when I use standard wall I get, what I get.  My technique came from before I was reading books and learning that you don't heat glass that hot to get it out of control and then try to bring it back to the edge of control and make some kind of sense out of it.

Oh, a little more.

So, anyhow.  This is sharp on both ends because it's been cut with a scoring knife and just snapped.  I'm going to fire polish one end and blow.  I'm going to blow hard enough that the air actually compresses as it goes down the tube and when it reaches the softened glass it's going to make this nice little bubble on the end but if I wouldn't turn it when I did that the bubble would respond to gravity and drop down a little bit.  Anyhow, that's going to be my mouth piece so I have to be real careful with this end, make sure it didn't have any extra little sharps, like that sound, that was a little extra sharp.  We don't want that.  And, I'm going to be very careful about ...  this torch, I'm told, is tricky.

Speaker 4:
Very hair trigger.

Bob Snodgrass:
Hair trigger, okay, well, I'll try to keep the trigger under control.  I'm going to heat about 1/4 of an inch to 1/2 and inch.  I'm going to watch the end soften and that would be called what's a fire polish and that's actually smoothed down and it's not sharp anymore but it's terribly hot.  Typically, I fire polish all the parts of things, then I go out, my shops in my yard.  I can go out and pull some weeds in my garden, which are needed usually, and anyhow, I got a nice garden and I get to do that so working at home can give you options and joys that you don't have somewhere else.  So, I like the work at home mentality that can be created with blowing glass for yourself.

And I countered as I was starting to sag and blow crooked, I countered and brought it back on to center.  Then, I usually have a brick and the brick has holes in it and I'll stand up whatever pieces I need to stand up because if I lay this down, there's a factor about heat rising and the air that will be lifting that heat, if I lay this on it's side is going to cause stresses that travel through the glass.  The glass actually when it's made, this is scientific laboratory tubing, is pulled out of a giant furnace that's bigger than this room squared and they draw it out.  They blow a bubble in it and stretch that bubble forever.  Some of it's drawn up three stories with automatic hoists so it stays the same size as it's pulled out of the furnace.  Anyhow, when it cools it forms these invisible layers.  Well, if I set this down on a cold surface even, it's going to cool with those layers being lined up this way.  If I let the layers go out this way, this is going to make the stress so much less in a piece.  When I stick this back in the heat, it's not going to freak out and jump apart.

Because, see if we heat this too much or cool it down too much ...  I'm going to do something here I don't do at home, very often anyhow, I'm going to use the cool air to cool.  That's just oxygen, a very expensive way to cool a piece of glass but I don't want to burn my lips.  My torch is also water cools, I can rest my hands on it.  This torch isn't.  This torch is warm after Steve working on it for so long and me coming up here doing a little bit.  So, I say most things involve a lot of prep work.  You might make 40 pieces and have them hang out of the kiln like and then you go and put those 40 pieces together, like I said on one interview, it takes sometimes, all night to come up with a pair, I like to work at night, it's quiet and nobody drops by and, I can touch it now, aha.  It won't burn my lips.  I'm going to flare this other end.  And I'll start out here and I'll gently heat that but soon as it touches the heat, I can bring it down.

Now, those invisible layers anyhow, if you keep them in line, keep them stretched even, don't add a lot of stress into them.  Like what I just did with this tool, I've forced this glass and I've pushed it backwards and now those stress lines actually line up like that.  Well, I want to relax that out of the glass and this time I'm just gently lifting and holding everything, kind of, in place.  I made a little fine cone.  Now, when I do classes, the first thing we do is we start out ...  oh, this is too bad, this is open on both ends.  Well, one end's smooth, almost.  So, that's the end I'm going to keep.  Brick would be nice, I forgot to order one.  I'm going to cut this into 2 pieces.  You want to find the center of something, it goes for balance.  If I stretch that and pull it hard, it could pretty much stretch all the way across Cincinnati.  It'll stretch 13 times thinner than a hair and it's almost unbreakable when it's extremely thin.  When you get down to a certain nano size, it doesn't break.

Now, I use water to break things off and I'll hold that in there, I'll go like, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, I'll come out and I'll just give a gentle tap and I've got a clean rod again.  I shake the water off.  Let's see, that's closed up on the end and what I'm going to do is try to heat the air inside and soften one spot and it went boop and made just a little hole.  I'm going to peel away some more.  Okay, uh-oh, where did I set it?  There it is.  If it would have been in a brick but I'm going to join these 2 pieces together and I'm going to blow with a puff because, you heard that little whistle?  Well, what's going on is some unburnt gases are being pushed into the tube and by blowing with a puff I've cleared them out of there.  If I wouldn't have blown that way they could have actually put some pressure back at me or ignited inside the tube and causes a lot of moisture to form there.  Oh, just wait here.  That's that over heating thing.

You're always trying to put things on center so I pull from each end at one point when the glass is just about firm.  So, it goes from a plastic state to a liquid back to a plastic state and then finally it'll set up and go solid.  So, let me figure out how strong that it.  I think I want to shrink it just a little bit more, make it just a little thicker to match this heavy wall tubing.  I only have an hour so I can't show very much, darn it, but to me, glass was like falling in love and incredible epiphanies occur.  It's like playing a musical instrument.  I'm going to do that thing again, cool this down so I don't slide my hand up there.  Instead this would have got stood on end and been in a brick.  I think I got to make a t-shirt, In A Brick, an incredible tool in your glass shop, anyhow, bricks with holes, blocks of wood with holes.  Blocks of wood with holes tend to smoke every once in a while, a lot of us do anyhow, so.

So, way back when I first started I used to make my own color, that blue tube that Steve used as his center tube, instead of going to the glass supply house or calling them up on the internet or whatever, I had to take cobalt oxide and blend it in with clear glass and pull it into rods and coil it into a tube and then there was my cobalt blue tube to start.  Today, we've got the options of buying things that make almost anybody look good right off the bat.  What Steve does by using the vacuum pump gives his pieces this exceptional look and have any of you ...  I bet a bunch of you have.  What the bleep do we know anyhow, seen that video? Well, a part of that is the story about a man in Japan that forms ice crystals and takes pictures of them and if he curses them, they come out looking like, not even worth looking at and if they get blessed by anybody, you could bless them, I could bless, somebody else, that guy could bless them and the thing comes out with crystals that are phenomenal and when I'm making my own color, fuming silver or fuming gold, crystals are forming in some of that matrix and part of you goes into that piece more than buying a purple tube.

Again, I'm going to heat this gently and come out here, bring it on down.  Whoa, feedback.  Was that the torch whistling? So, my torch is on a foot pedal and right now I would step on the foot pedal and something like that would happen, a flame would jump up and when I was ready I would jump off the foot pedal but I can take it out of the fire, that'll work.  I'm going to prep this for a second piece.  I'm going to make my first piece here.  This one, I'll pull into a pull point.  We're going to make it into whatever the last 15 minutes of this demonstration, I need a warning time, so I'll get to be able to at least make one complete piece.  Most of the time I make parts and pieces, most of them take 20 to 40 minutes.  Some of them only take like 7 minutes but I might use 12 of those 7 minutes pieces stuck onto something.  This'll be a pulled point.  I prefer using a blow tube like I did with the first one.  Pulled points don't always become even and see that little bit of shaking I'm doing.  That's a lot of stress on your shoulder.  Do that for 40 years and guess what, can't lift your arm, huh?

Quit doing something, oh, quit pulling points, so making a blow tube, oh, another thing about blow tube, it's always the same time, same size.  You can make lengths very and things like that, you can pick different sizes, whatever really fits your hand but you get muscle memory, this one's going to be this size.  The next one is going to b e a quarter of a millimeter different and where's the brick? Yes.  So really, I want this to cool while it's standing, do I have a volunteer? It's warm beyond here so you just want ...  and this is glass etiquette, when you pass something, you slide your hand up and pass them the guaranteed cool spot.  When we do this complicated events, sometimes people don't respond that way and the whole thing's over with.

Okay, so I got a nice pile of silver filings in here.  I'm going to use some of them to fume this piece of glass.  I can cut the silver in small chunks.  Actually, I got a small chunk right here.  That'll even work better,

Speaker 3:
Back up and join you Bob, is that okay?

Bob Snodgrass:
Yes, sir.  Well, cool.  I'll make you a quick blank.

Speaker 3:

Bob Snodgrass:
So, that's a piece of 999 fine silver.  The higher purity is really something I need.  If I use like 80% silver, it's got other metals in it and once the silver boils, it boils at like 2300 and if there's copper alloyed with it, well, the cooper's going to boil at at 2900, inside the liquid silver and it ends up splattering and spattering and burning you as well as not giving you a nice even coat.  So, what I got going on here is, this is a bronze little skull and I'm going to make some skull imprints on this.  And this is heavy wall tubing so it's pretty easy to do that with.  I was hoping to work with some standard wall tubing, I got a small piece here and build it up but I don't think I have time to get more than a few things done.  So, that's one skull, and here's another.  Awesome.  That's what we needed.  A little ...  so I got Pandora busy all the time at my shop.  I've got all kinds of Grateful Dead, stuff like Woody Guthrie, a lot of 50's stuff, one of them a Chris Lowe song, What's Behind the Green Door, that was the first record I got my mom to buy me.

So, what I got going on here, brass tubes and they're stuck inside another tube.  I a piece of stainless, actually a soft glass blow pipe that I shortened for doing [cristobel 00:23:24] work.  Pardon me.  I didn't mind.  So, anyhow, make impressions in the soft glass.  [inaudible 00:23:41] so these are just little brass tubes, I bought them at a hobby store, cost a couple bucks a piece, 3 bucks a piece for the bigger ones.  There's one inside another and now I've got a bullseye pattern here.  It's a little lopsided but you know, if I use those lopsided bullseyes for eyes, they turn into great things.  So, I'm softening, making an impression.  Ah, computer graphics card died, that's cool.  I bought new one, stuck in there and look at all that [inaudible 00:24:33] that ought to make one heck of set of teeth.  Yeah.

Softened the place, guy runs.  Everybody ready because I don't want this to crack, anybody that wants to see this come up and take a peek real quick, this is the coolest little grin.  Right there is the grin made by the heat sync.  That's that.  So, this stuff, if I let this cool down and get to enamored at my appearance of looking at it and spending time, pow, it goes all over the floor.  That's why you need a fire proof studio.

Well, yeah, it's 1948, no '47 GMC with a Detroit Pusher, it's not a regular school bus.  It's only a 30 footer which is really nice.  The guy that I got it from basically was making it into a motor home and then the fellow that was renting them a farm used to come over for coffee every morning, one morning he came over and he was like in his 70's and these people were in their 30's and ...  now, I'm going to fume some silver.  Anyhow, the guy says, why don't you buy the farm instead of move on.  She says, we can't buy the farm.  He said, I didn't say, could you.  Why don't you? I'll cosign for you.  So the bus sat out in the field after they got the whole outside paneled over and get rid of the windows and I happen to buy this nice aluminum bus with these windows all paneled over and it became my studio and it's 20 years old today.

Oh, I'm fuming silver right now.  Why I'm actually doing is that small dot is going to flash in a second.  There.  That little dot is a piece of pure silver and I'm going to steady rest my hand back here on the knob because I can't do it because this torch is not water cooled.  I'm going to hold my hand kind of still, I'm going to get that silver in and out.  Every time I dip it in it gets more excitive and I just put a flush of color over here.  So, we go through 2 eyed guy.  Some big one eyed character with teeth.  Oh, butter knife, this is a real good glass blowing tool.  Every glass blower needs a couple because you can't find them sometimes unless you've got magnets but ...  I'm going to soften a spot and make ...  outside the flame is where you do this kind of work.  Actually, most of our work is done outside the flame.

Now, here's the oldest technique in glass blowing.  So, my theory [opposed to plying 00:28:30] these is, I think it happened at the edge of the metal refining pit where they were using an animal skin bellows and firing up brass or bronze or copper that they found wasn't brass or bronze, it was copper and cave man was making a fire and inside of the pit came along these little glassy shiny spots when the fire was hot enough.  Somebody gathered them all up and learned they could melt them one at a time and do something like this.  Just stretch them and wind them along.  That was called trailing.  Real simple process once you learn the balance of your heat.  Now, I got all these cool little thin lines.  I didn't draw line, I just spun the pieces into molten glass.  Here we go again.  Just touch down.

So, what I was saying, you can stretch that 13 times thinner than a hair.  You'll see a lot of work that's got little stringers in it.  I like to touch in them and give them a twist every one in a while, sometimes get more leverage, pull it like that.

Speaker 3:
I remember a rumor from way back in the day that you made your apprentices clean up their benches because you told them that they would get a stringer that would get into their blood and go to their heart.  And then I also heard that that was just a bunch of b.s.  to make people clean up after themselves.

Bob Snodgrass:
Might be although, you know, if it does get into our circulatory system, we'll probably be in trouble.  It's going to get stuck.  It's going to hurt somewhere.

Speaker 3:
But you never told any of your apprentices that?

Bob Snodgrass:
I don't think I quite told them that.  But I don't know, I might have been a little peeved at somebody or something and make up a story.  Oh, that piece is cool by now.  You're probably wanting to get rid of it.  Okay.  Hang on a second.  So, when I read the book, it said you weren't supposed to get it so hot, you were supposed to always keep it under control and definitely my method is work on the edge of out of control.  I'm going to draw some more dots on here real quick before I give this to Steve.  I got to make it smooth before I give it to him, still has all those fissures from those skulls I drew all over it, oh, embedded with the tool.  I guess, I'll have to draw one.  This is the way I draw them.  I'll take a tube, like so, take solid rod and outside the flame I'll push down a dot, I'll pull back and I'll fire cut it in the flame and now I've got a dot in there, there's another dot, outside the flame, we do most of our work outside of the flame.

Now, we'll pull a stringer that's about as thin as a hair.  I'm going to get the background hot.  I'm going to get the stringer.  I'm going to touch the 2 together, then, I go back to the flame and I fire cut it off a dot that's less than a millimeter in diameter and there's 3 of them in a pretty pleasant row.  I hate to count though.  Once I start counting when I get to 7 I got  to do something like that so I just keep telling myself, that's nice.   That's nice.  That one's crooked but  we only got one chance here.  Let's get a little bigger fire.  This torch will heat up  the room, actually.  So, one of the things I recommend you don't just go work in a big building.  You can put up ventilation.  Spend more money on your ventilation than you do your torch.  Back in '95 I went to ASGS, that's American Scientific Glassblower Society and I took a health and safety class.

Asked a lot of questions about ventilation.  One of the real perks of being in that class was there was an old guy in his like 68, oh, that's how old I'll be next year, he pulled up his x-rays of his lungs.  Talked about how in their workshop up in the corner of the room, when they see that brown vapor that build up sometimes come together and touch, then they go out and have a cigarette.  That brown vapor was a nitrogen imbalance that's created by this torch right now and if you were blowing glass in here all day with 6 or 12 glass blowers, at the end of the day you'd have a bit of a vapor problem.  Next thing being, his lungs were all white because he boiled the glass in his work, which we all do, a good thing we want to vaporize it.  The amount that's getting boiled today is insignificant, no more than walking behind a car with a catalytic converter while it's running.

But do that over 40 years, you're going to end up with real problems if you walk behind a car with a catalytic converter for 40 years, you're going to get some kind of serious lung problem.  Anyhow, he showed up these x-rays of his lung and they were all outlined in white because silica vapor had been deposited in his lungs and not expelled being a cigarette smoker and so forth and ...  excuse me, I got to concentrate for half a second here.  I'm up there on my edge of out of control and you got to make it ...  you're working with gravity as your best friend or your worst enemy and sometimes it gets right down to the wire how tough it might be.  Anyhow, this could collapse and go flat and turn into nothing, then I'm folding it back on itself.

I think I'm about there.  I'm going to put a punny on the other end for structure.  I didn't heat that up gently.  Did anybody hear that go tink and they ricochet a piece off the table.  I should have  done that.  But I'm thinking more about what's going on over here.  Anyhow, he showed us his s-rays.  We all ohh'd and awed about how bad they were and next year, I went to the convention again because actually, that year at the health and safety class all we did was ask a lot of questions and nobody got an answer and we went there again the following year just to see what was going on, this time it was in New Orleans.  A fellow came by, tapped me on the shoulder and said, I'm about to go present my papers and I think you'll be real interested.  After last year's class in health and safety and we came up with no real answers on ventilation, I decided to do my thesis on air quality of the lamp shop.  I confirmed all the theories I ever had about it and today not only us happy glass blowers  got a fan in the window, the scientific got great hoods with $10,000 air scrubbers on  them.

So, I think that was one of the most monumental things that have happened in my career is to be a part of what changed that and that we all can work for 40 years, I like working in my yard and I've been working there a long time.  Plan to work there a long more time.  You guys want this blank.  I bet, we're getting close on time or something, I was saying 20.  Nobody listens, okay.  There you go.  It's just got some skulls on it instead of  some color.  Can you handle, it's not too far out of shape? There it is.  Thank you.  So, this end's still sealed, I want to open it up.  I'm going to do a technique we call wrap and tap.  I want to break this off and have it be open. 

So, it's hardly hot.  I gave it a chance to warm up there.  So, I'm just going to stand here and hold this while it heats up instead of spinning it round and round.  I'm just interested in really pumping the heat into it.  I'm going to touch it down there and I'm going to wrap it around.  That's thick again thin, now pull it off a little bit.  We'll wait.  Watch that glow start to go away, come up underneath my torch, give it a tap.  That's open and clean and just needs a little fire polish.  So, before  I blister my lips with the fire polish, we turn all this off.  So the first thing I learned to make were doobie holders and there were several different varieties. 

This was the first pipe I learned to make.  We joke and called it the minute pipe because it didn't require a lot of time.  Now, I could spend a lot of time decorating certain aspects of it and then.  Did they say, ha-ha-hair trigger? There we go.  Well anyhow, this one isn't going to get a dramatic effect.  I'm going to heat it gently way out here.  Whoa.  Coming out of Compton, did you  hear that? Automatic fire.  Make the flame fall back on the torch.  Ah, there it is.  Okay, some squiggly lines, a few more dots.  Oh, that sound we hate.  Did you hear that? Maybe the  front row did.  It went, tink.   I'm going to heal that.  Who was it? That's going to leave a mark.  Yeah.  See if I can rescue it.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.  By blowing down the inside there inside, even though it escapes, still stretching, pushing and maybe heal that.  Go back and double do it because a lot of times once isn't enough. 

If that glass doesn't move, if it just looks like it got fixed, don't drop it, it'll fall apart, right there.  If you get all that glass to move though then it forgets about all those invisible layers.  It gets new ones